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WORD Christchurch – A Festival of Kupu, Stories and Ideas for All

Literary Groups & Festivals, Literature

WORD Christchurch 2023 opens 23 to 27 August at venues throughout the city…

International guests will unite with local literary luminaries at Ōtautahi’s beloved festival of stories, ideas and conversations – WORD Christchurch – this August. Over 130 writers, thinkers, poets and performers and over 80 events have been announced in the 2023 programme tonight.

Building on the festival’s established reputation for celebrating words, whether they be in books, spoken word, performance, podcast, with music or in letters, from Wednesday, 23 August to Sunday, 27 August audiences can attend thought-provoking and perspective-changing events spread across venues that include The Piano, Tūranga, The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora, and Little Andromeda.

“WORD has always been a festival committed to elevating words in all their forms and this year’s programme keeps that kaupapa alive,” says Programme Lead Kiran Dass. “Whatever form people take their words in, we have something that will allow festival-goers to immerse themselves.”

Dass has worked alongside guest programmers-at-large Catarina de Peters Leitão (nō Te Whānau-ā-Apanui), Melanie Dixon and Audrey Baldwin to elevate Māori writers and storytellers, as well as creatives across the country: “The interests and expertise that each brings through their own experiences and community outreach adds to the dynamism of the festival and brings a unique flavour to it.”

Commemorating the 100th anniversary of Katherine Mansfield’s death, Dass acknowledges Mansfield’s quote ‘Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on Earth for you! Act for yourself. Face the truth!’ informed some programming decisions.

“The idea of ‘risk’ provides so many opportunities to reflect on and speak to while opening up many themes,” she explains. “Whether it is introducing audiences to new writers, performers and thinkers that they may not have heard of or illuminating new, possibly challenging, ideas.”

RISK! The WORD Gala brings together featured international guests with poet Tusiata Avia to discuss moments when they have ‘taken a risk and lived to tell the tale.’ Dass is excited to, once again, give audiences direct access to some of the world’s most exciting international guests.

Regarded as one of the most thrilling new Caribbean voices, Kevin Jared Hosein’s novel Hungry Ghosts explores the impact of colonisation on his home, Trinidad and Tobago. “While Trinidad and Tobago may feel like a long way away from Aotearoa, these themes are strikingly relevant to New Zealand,” Dass says.

British writer Gabriel Krauze made waves with his autobiographical novel Who They Was, longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, which tells the story of a young man who straddles two worlds – studying English Literature at university yet remaining embedded in a London underworld of gangs, drugs and violent crime.

Fellow Brit, writer and translator Polly Barton’s work includes translations of contemporary women’s fiction by Japanese writers, a memoir about her encounters with the Japanese language and an oral history of pornography based on 19 interviews with people across ages, genders and sexualities. Barton poses the question, ‘are oral histories another way of translating cultures?’.

Australian-based New Zealand born writer Meg Mason is in conservation with Noelle McCarthy, talking about her book Sorrow and Bliss which was shortlisted for last year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.

In-depth musical knowledge combined with nostalgia for small town life powered Scottish writer David Keenan’s debut novel This is Memorial Device and is shot through his subsequent works.  Keenan will speak with Dass about how music informs his writing, and also appears alongside cult local musician Bruce Russell for a reading accompanied by improvised music.

“One of the things that I am most excited about is having our international guests in sessions with local thinkers, writers and performers and hearing the conversations and discussions which result,” says Dass.

2023 is a blockbuster year for Aotearoa publishing. Acclaimed New Zealand contributors include Emily Perkins, Pip Adam, Catherine Chidgey, Fiona Farrell and Carl Nixon, who have all published new novels this year, as well as emerging talents such as Josie Shapiro, Ruby Solly (Kāi Tahu, Waitaha, Kāti Māmoe), Khadro Mohamed and Airana Ngarewa (Ngāti Ruanui, Ngā Rauru, Ngāruahine).

Chinese-New Zealand playwright Nathan Joe brings his sell-out show Dirty Passports to his hometown, with some of the finest local BIPOC storytellers and spoken word artists joining forces with Kevin Jared Hosein to shatter stereotypes as they riff on themes of decolonisation, queerness and feminism.

Poet and performance powerhouse Tusiata Avia joins John Campbell to discuss her provocative award-winning poetry collection The Savage Coloniser Book while WORD also commemorates Witi Ihimaera’s unparalleled contribution to local literature. Recognising Ihimaera as a rangatira of Aotearoa’s stories, it is 50 years since the release of his debut novel Tangi  – the first to be published by a Māori author. He’ll be in conversation about his lengthy career and most recent work co-editing anthologies of Māori writing.

WORD Christchurch Executive Director Steph Walker says “There are very few festivals in Christchurch, let alone one that really has young and old covered, from sports fans to music nerds. It really does reflect this excellent city we live in.”

Southbridge born and raised All Black legend Dan Carter launches new book The Art of Winning to his home crowd as a WORD curtain raiser on Tuesday 22 August, converting sporting lessons into life lessons for all.

While the core of WORD is renowned authors discussing their work, showcases of poetry and song, expert panels debating local and global issues, there are also more novel events. These include Fungi:  A Curious Hikoi with Liv Sisson whose book Fungi of Aotearoa: A Curious Forager’s Field Guide is revealing new and magical tales about the role of fungi in the world. Sisson will lead a walking tour along the Avon/Ōtākaro River to discover what food can be foraged from its banks.

In Cabinet of Curiosities, Emily Perkins, Gabriel Krauze, Andrew Paul Wood, Melody Thomas and Juanita Hepi (Kāi Tahu) reveal their ‘weird and wonderful deep obsessions’ while The Lost Art of Letter Writing is a chance to send and receive letters which will be delivered by WORD posties across various festival sites.

Librarians from Tūranga, Christchurch’s main public library, go up against AI to gauge whether their combined years of wisdom and experience wins when it comes to devising personalised reading lists.  AI vs Librarians could well influence the future of reading!

Recognising that many WORD visitors are also creators, there is a stimulating line-up of masterclasses and workshops designed to provide new inspiration and  skills. This year’s schedule includes investigative journalist Bryon C Clark on investigative research; Melody Thomas, host of Stuff’s new series The Good Sex Project, on podcasting; Catherine Chidgey on ‘unusual narrators’; and Pip Adam on whether elements of and the structures of jokes can be used in fiction.

Youth and school events designed to foster a love of reading and writing, round out the packed programme. These include the Ōtautahi Zinefest and award-winning young flash fiction writers Hannah Daniell and Chloe Morrison-Clarke in 100 Words to Save the Universe, sharing ideas for writing cracking short, short fiction.

WORD 2023 starts on Wednesday, 23 August with Tīmataka, an evening of poignant and uplifting storytelling, poetry and waiata presented by Ben Brown (Ngāti Mahuta, Ngāti Koroki, Ngāti Paoa), Ruby Solly (Kāi Tahu, Waitaha, Kāti Māmoe) and Ariana Tikao (Kāi Tahu). “We’re privileged to have Kāi Tahu descendants of our original storytellers bring their talent to the WORD stages,” says Walker.

Tickets are now on sale at www.wordchristchurch.co.nz, with ticket prices starting from $10 (plus booking fee). Over 20% of the WORD Christchurch 2023 programme is free to attend.


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